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British Industrial History

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Merthyr Tramroad

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1804. The rails on the Merthyr Tydfil Railway.

Merthyr Tramroad, from Penydarren to Abercynon, a distance of 9.75 miles

Penydarren Ironworks was the fourth of the four main ironworks established in Merthyr, the other three being Dowlais, Plymouth and Cyfarthfa.

1799 Because Richard Crawshay and the owners of the Cyfarthfa Ironworks dominated the management of the Glamorganshire Canal, the other three ironmasters determined to free themselves, in whole or in part, from dependence on the canal, and they petitioned a Bill in Parliament for a tramroad from Cardiff with branches to Merthyr, Abernant and the head of the Rhymney valley. It was defeated by canal opposition, but already, on 18th January 1799, Samuel Homfray of Penydarren, William Taitt of Dowlais and Richard Hill of Plymouth had agreed to build the section from Merthyr to Abercynon, thereby by‑passing the upper and most inconvenient stretch of the canal.

The tramroad was built without an Act of Parliament; compulsory powers, though not invoked, were already provided by the Glamorganshire Canal Act, which authorised proprietors of works within four miles of the canal to build railways to it.

The Dowlais and Penydarren works each owned five shares in the tramroad, Plymouth four.

The line was built under the general supervision of Richard Hill; George Overton was the engineer. Work began in 1800, and the tramroad was completed in 1802, being 9½ miles long from a junction with the Dowlais-canal line in Merthyr to the canal basin at Abercynon. The gauge was 4ft 2in inside the plate flanges, or 4ft 4in over them.

Samuel Homfray (of Penydarren) was so impressed with Richard Trevithick's locomotive that he made a bet of 500 guineas with another ironmaster, Richard Crawshay (of Cyfarthfa), that Trevithick's steam locomotive could haul 10 tons of iron along the Merthyr Tramroad from Penydarren to Abercynon.

1803 October: Trevithick was busily engaged in constructing a tramway locomotive at Penydarren, to run on rails not exceeding an elevation of 1 in 50, and of considerable length.

1804 February 21st. The bet was won. Several further runs were made that month and in March. Trevithick's locomotive was probably the first to haul wagons along a "smooth" iron road using the adhesive weight alone of a suitably heavy and powerful steam locomotive. However some of the short cast iron plates of the tram-road broke under the locomotive, so the tram-road returned to horse power after these test runs.

Eventually the tramroad was about twenty-seven miles in length, serving the iron-works of Plymouth, Pen-y-darran (Penydarren), and Dowlais.

See Also

  • The Penydarren Tramroad [1]

Sources of Information